Local governments face stormwater challenge
by D. GARY DAVIS, Bradley County Mayor
Jan 29, 2013 | 479 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 1972, the United States Congress passed the Clean Water Act which is the primary federal law governing water pollution. This unfunded mandate from Washington has been amended on occasion to ensure that state and local governments are meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality requirements regarding stormwater runoff and its impact on our lakes, rivers and streams.

We must protect our environment, but without sufficient funding it is unlikely that many cities and counties will be able to comply with National Pollution Detection & Elimination System rules. For example, several months ago Chattanooga signed a consent decree with the EPA and TDEC which forces the city to spend $250 million to upgrade and repair the city’s sewer system to meet federal water quality standards.

This required a huge increase in stormwater permit fees which affected just about everyone, from homeowners to businesses, churches and industry. Other cities across the nation are staring at fixes and penalties far greater than what Chattanooga has agreed to. Knoxville’s tab is $530 million. Nashville will spend approximately $1.5 billion.

The culprit is stormwater and surface runoff which has a great impact on our drinking water. Nonporous surfaces like driveways, sidewalks and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Instead, the stormwater picks up debris, chemicals, motor oils, pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants. The unfiltered and untreated water often goes directly into a storm sewer system, lake, stream, river, wetland or coastal waterway.

EPA continues to tighten stormwater regulations and in November 2008, it began requiring some big-box stores, malls and other businesses to reduce the amount of rainwater that runs off their roofs and parking lots.

The natural process of water soaking into the earth is destroyed when we cover the land with buildings, parking lots and roads. A paved parking lot sheds 16 times the amount of water as a meadow when there is a 1-inch rainfall. Because of this, the Bradley County Stormwater Department, which operates out of the Bradley County Engineers Office, is often called upon to perform a balancing act between protecting our environment and drinking water, while ensuring that our homebuilders, developers and others in construction-related industries can continue to do business. The goal is to protect public health and natural resources while providing a climate for continued economic growth. Our efforts are paying off.

Polluted stormwater runoff is the No. 1 cause of water pollution in some parts of the nation. But it doesn’t have to be in Bradley County. In October 2004, the County Commission adopted a Stormwater Management Policy which is available on the county’s website. It is designed to protect the public health and general welfare of our citizens by setting standards to regulate and control the discharge of pollutants into the county’s stormwater system.

There are things that each of us can do to protect our water supply and also assist the staff in the county’s stormwater department. These include:

1. Recycling your used motor oil or fixing that leaky crankcase or transmission. If repair is not possible, put a drip tray under the car and recycle the collected oil.

2. Keep suds out of storm drains.

3. Use low-phosphate soaps when you wash your car.

4. Fertilize wisely and use pesticides only when necessary.

5. Never spray pesticides or fertilizers near ditches, lakes or bays.

6. Dispose of lawn and garden chemicals carefully. Follow instructions on the container and never dump them down the drain, in the gutter or near water.

By following a few simple guidelines we can continue to make Bradley County “Tennessee at its best.”

For more tips and information about stormwater runoff, go to the following website:

http://www.epa.gov/weatherchannel/stormwater.html, or http://www.bradleyco.net/stormwaterhome.aspx.